Reviews /

Out of the Rubble

Authored by Sally Nicholls
Published by Oxford University Press

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Out of the Rubble: ‘Everyone in London had this huge thing happen to them. And I missed it. And I come back and there’s this whole ruined city … It’s so strange.’

In Out of the Rubble, Sally Nicholls excavates not just the historical truth of life in London towards the end of WW2, but also the emotional truth of what it would be like for young evacuees to return to London after five years in the countryside. This beautiful short novel, part of Oxford University Press’ Super-Readable Rollercoasters series produced in partnership with Barrington Stoke, tells the story of 14-year-old vicar’s daughter Judy who was evacuated to Somerset aged nine and has returned to find everything transformed: her father is away serving as a military chaplain, her home has been destroyed and her mother is now living in a caravan in their uncle’s back yard. More than that, however, her mother is unwilling to discuss life during the Blitz or Judy’s life in Somerset.

This is a story about home and about loss. Judy was treated kindly as an evacuee by Auntie Poll and Auntie Betty (not really her aunties) but never felt completely at home there, and she feels like a stranger when she returns to London. Meanwhile, her mother is still traumatised by the experience of being bombed and resents having missed out on so much of Judy’s childhood. It is only when Judy finds the remains of their old home and makes friends with nature-loving Alan that she can start to reconnect to her past and to her family: the ‘rubble‘ in the title thus has literal and symbolic significance.

This would be an excellent book to recommend to children who have enjoyed other evacuee novels such as Carrie’s War, Goodnight Mister Tom or When the Sky Falls as it offers a different perspective by focusing on the aftermath of the war. It certainly made me reflect more fully on the emotional upheaval for both children and parents who had been separated for so many years. Nicholls writes with real sensitivity, enabling us to empathise with both mother and daughter, and there is a sense of hope and healing as the story progresses, especially through the descriptions of wildlife which spring up among the ruins. As with the rest of this author’s historical fiction, it is meticulously researched and is full of details which help us to imagine London in 1945: National Restaurants, ration books, powdered eggs and much more.

Like all Barrington Stoke titles, this book is designed to be accessible to all readers, and once again demonstrates that it is possible to tell a powerful story using simple language within a slender page count. Something I particularly like about this OUP series is the inclusion of notes at the end of the book which offer further information about the topics explored and would facilitate discussion of different issues. It is marketed at readers aged 11-14; I think it would appeal most to the younger end of this age range and also to older primary pupils, who could either enjoy this independently or as a class reader.